Keeping in Check; Webinar Focuses on RRP Enforcement and Compliance

December 20th, 2011 by DWM Magazine

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Lead: Renovation, Repair & Painting (RRP) rule was finalized in 2008 and since that time has been through a number of revisions, the latest of which took place this past August. Matthew Watkins, Environmental Policy Analyst, Air, Waste and Wetlands for the National Association of Homebuilders, along with Donald J. Lott, associate director, Waste & Chemicals Enforcement, with the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, talked about some of these changes and discussed the revised rule, paying particular attention to enforcement and compliance, during a recent webinar.

When it comes to enforcement, the subject on which the webinar focused heavily, Watkins explained it can take two forms: an on-site inspection, where an EPA official inspects an active renovation project, and a recordkeeping audit, where an EPA official schedules an appointment to review and audit the last three years of records for projects done in pre-1978 housing.

Lott said they have done more than 1,000 federal inspections since the rule went into effect and there are many more from the state level, however, he said they do not have those numbers.

He also talked about EPA’s enforcement strategies. For example, there is a tips and complaints hotline. Lott said tips are important to ensure compliance in the field. He said there are a lot of activities going on that regulate industry–those doing the work—however there have been cases where the agency can’t respond to tips received because not enough information was provided.

“We need as much information about what is going as possible [such as] location, company name, etc. … as much detail as [can be] provided,” he said. “Without an address there’s not a lot we can do.”

He said if the address is not known, if the name of the company can be provided it will at east give them an idea of where to start.

“Name and address are the most important things, and a basic description of what the project is about,” said Lott. “If we have the name of the business we can follow up with [the company] after the job is complete …”

But what about anonymity? Do callers have to provide their own names? Lott said at the EPA they don’t normally reveal the names of people who give them tips, but they can still request anonymity.

“If they give us a name [though] we can follow up with them for more details,” he added.

Speaking of certified versus non-certified firms, Lott said one of the things about signing up for regulated program is you become known; however, he said they do not focus on certified firms exclusively.

“Most tips/complaints we get deal with uncertified firms,” Lott said.

As far as the percentage of those uncertified, Lott estimates a 60/40 ratio heavily weighted to uncertified firms.

“We’re doing more than half [of our inspections] with uncertified firms and a significant portion of those are the result of tips we’ve received,” said Lott.

As far as the timeline between inspection and enforcement action, Lott said they try and get cases out within three to six months. Watkins asked about non-compliance with certified firms and what the EPA is looking at. According to Lott, the basic thing for compliance when looking at certified firms is lead safe work practices. He said they do look at other criteria such as record-keeping, that they have proper training, the property is maintained, etc.

“Our focus in this entire rule has been on making sure the people living in residences being renovated are in fact being protected adequately by the practices being engaged in by the renovators,” said Lott.

Speaking of record keeping, under the program the records are kept for three years.

“When we inspect for books and records the first thing we’re going to look at is to make sure all the certifications are taken care of,” said Lott, adding they next look to make sure the projects are being maintained properly.

“As far as lead-safe work practices are concerned, as it relates to books and records, we like to look at the books and records as an opportunity to gauge the types of activities you are looking at … so we can take that to the field at a later time, maybe with a follow-up inspection, to monitor that activity in the field,” said Lott. “Books and records … are not just [looked at for] a week or two before the visit.” He said they go back an extended period of time to make sure records have been in place for awhile.

Likewise, Lott pointed out that after an inspection if they find they have additional questions or need additional information they follow up with a written letter requesting the additional information. Also, the Toxic Substances Control Act allows the EPA the authority to issue a subpoena if necessary. He said they can use this as an initiation of an investigation even before an on-site inspection has been done. These might be used, for example, when the EPA is looking for something rather extensive as it can help spell out very clearly the information they are looking for.

Likewise, Watkins also noted that in 2011 three RRP cases were filed and a large number are in the pipeline for 2012. The cases involve both large and small firms as well as both certified firms and non-certified firms.

The webinar also provided a look at some recent RRP revisions. According to Watkins several were made. For example, high-speed tools must have a HEPA-vacuum attachment and certified renovators can now collect paint chip samples for analysis. In addition, hands-on training is now required for recertification; some revisions were made to the “Renovate Right” brochure; and vertical containment was defined, which Watkins said must be used within 10 feet of the property line. The EPA allows for an equivalent system, which gives the remodeler flexibility to create a safe work area. So, it’s more than just putting plastic over scaffolding, he explained.

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